From the Other Side of Ground Zero, Anti-Muslim Venom
The Internet evangelist Bill Keller moved toward the dais in tiny, quick steps on Sunday, exhibiting the anticipation of a man ready to address a crowd. Roughly 60 people stood before him in a hotel meeting room in Lower Manhattan, temporary quarters of his Christian center, his response to the mosque planned for an empty building nearby.
“If we’re going to do something in New York City, we’re going to do something that’s not just bold and visible, but something that has a lasting presence,” said Mr. Keller, who is from the Tampa Bay area of Florida.
Later, he told reporters that Muslims “can go to their mosque and preach the lies of Islam and I’ll come here to preach the truth of the Gospel.”
Since its organizers attended a community board meeting four months ago, the mosque — part of a Muslim community center that would offer a day care center, an auditorium and a pool — quickly became fodder for a national debate. Much of the opposition is over its location: two blocks north of ground zero.
Mr. Keller promoted his center, which he called the 9/11 Christian Center at Ground Zero, as a religious counterweight to the mosque, which he repeatedly called a “victory mosque” or a monument to “a great Muslim military accomplishment,” as he explained it at the inaugural service at the New York Marriott Downtown Hotel on West Street, two blocks south of ground zero.
His career arc makes him a somewhat unusual standard-bearer: Mr. Keller became a preacher after serving a sentence in federal prison for insider trading, as he says in a biography posted on his Web site.
He has also appeared on Howard Stern’s satellite radio show and once had a program on national television, which was canceled after he called Islam a “1,400-year-old lie from the pits of hell.” The program is now carried by a small station in Florida.
But it is on the Internet that Mr. Keller has assembled his largest following. He claims that 20,000 people visit his Web site daily and 2.5 million receive his daily sermon by e-mail.
His service at the Marriott brought together people who expressed admiration, disapproval and curiosity. A man yelled, “Muslims pray five times a day,” but Mr. Keller carried on undisturbed, denouncing Islam as a religion that preaches “hate, violence and death.” The man eventually left.
Mr. Keller also described the conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck, who is a Mormon, and Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who is behind the Muslim community center, as followers of false faiths.
Later, he called the mosque’s potential worshipers guilty of terrorism by association, saying it was “their Muslim brothers” who “flew airplanes into the World Trade Center towers and killed 3,000 people.”
A woman who said she had driven in from Scranton, Pa., pulled Mr. Keller aside afterward and told him that his Christian center “needs to be here,” but she asked if he could tame his language so he would not come across as such a firebrand. He told her he had to talk exactly the way he did if he wanted people to follow him.
Prebem Andersen, 60, who lives in South Salem, N.Y., said Mr. Keller had “told the truth from a Christian perspective.” Richard Borkowski, who lives in Manhattan on the West Side, wore a black T-shirt with the words “Peace Through Understanding.”
Mr. Keller plans to be at the hotel every Sunday until the end of the year and then move the center on Jan. 1 to a permanent spot, although he said he would not disclose its location until Oct. 1.
“I have three locations in contract, but I won’t say where because I don’t want people picketing outside and ruining the deal,” he said.
He is relying on donations to cover the costs of his weekly services, which total $7,000. He said he would need $1 million to run the center for its first year from its permanent home, which would be open seven days a week. He did not seem concerned about finding the money.
“There are a lot more people than you’d imagine who believe in what I’m doing,” he said.
Bill Keller, Muslim-hating pastor, wants to build Christian center to rival 'Ground Zero mosque'
The crusade against a proposed mosque near Ground Zero turned Biblical Sunday as a fire-and-brimstone Florida preacher declared that those behind it will "burn in hell."
"All these people will die and burn in hell," Bill Keller told a crowd of 40 people gathered to hear his sermon at the New York Marriott Downtown overlooking Ground Zero.
"Islam is not and has never been a religion of peace," he said. "How could you build bridges with people who ask their Muslim brothers to fly a plane into the twin towers and killed thousands of innocent people?"
It's inflammatory rhetoric like Keller's that has supporters of the mosque most worried: They say it is wrong to tarnish the entire Muslim religion because of the actions of a few.
Many opposed to the Park51 project have also dismissed the Muslim-bashing preacher, fearing they'll be lumped in with his bigoted and racist views.
Keller says he is raising funds to create a 9/11 Christian center near what he calls the "victory mosque." Sparing few others the rod, he also leveled equal condemnation toward Hindus, pro-choice supporters and even Mormons - including Fox News' Glenn Beck.
Meanwhile, a group of Republican leaders - including scandal-scarred former Congressman Vito Fossella - joined in the fight at a 9/11 memorial in Staten Island yesterday. Standing with Fossella was Long Island Rep. Pete King and Carl Paladino, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor.
"No matter what stage the project is in at the time I enter office on Jan. 1, I will stop it," Paladino vowed. "They will move it some place else."